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Marvel's Spider-Man

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Insomniac Games
Release Date: Sept. 7, 2018


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PS4 Preview - 'Spider-Man'

by Thomas Wilde on June 21, 2017 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Marvel's Spider-Man features the web-slinger's acrobatic abilities, improvisation and web-slinging, while also introducing elements such as traversing with parkour, distinct environmental interactions, new combat, and cinematic blockbuster set pieces.

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At this point, I only have two real points of concern about Insomniac's Spider-Man game: There's a lot of Dan Slott's recent run on Amazing Spider-Man in it for some reason, which is one of the most dramatically uneven comics in Marvel's recent history, and the outfit looks kind of silly. It's a basic variant on the classic red-and-blue Spidey suit, but for whatever reason, it's got this broad shock of white across it, which is vaguely reminiscent of the black suit's logo.

The latter was one of the questions that came up the most often at E3 2017, as part of the demo that Insomniac's production team was holding in Sony's booth. Apparently, the white bit of the suit is somehow important to the game's larger plot, and they aren't willing to talk about it yet. Perhaps the end of the game will come when Peter Parker realizes the greatest crime he's never fought is that of fashion. I do not know.

Those are minor complaints in what seems like it will be an impressive overall product. Insomniac's brought a lot of love to the game, with fans on the staff and inspirations that range from its own titles (particularly Sunset Overdrive); to Spider-Man 2, the film tie-in game that managed to perfect the feel of web-slinging around the city; and to the old Neversoft Spider-Man games on the Dreamcast and PlayStation. A lot of people also want to point to the Batman Arkham series, and sure, there's some of that there, but as a semi-qualified, self-appointed Spider-Man expert (I made an ID card), this has a lot more to do with those Neversoft games than anything else.

The Peter Parker of this game is 23 years old, with some experience under his belt but still relatively new to the superhero life. This is intended as a solo adventure for him, pitting him up against the Kingpin at first before beginning a major story featuring the relatively new villain, Mr. Negative. By day, Martin Li runs a well-regarded homeless shelter, but his dark side comes out as Manhattan Island's newest aspiring crime lord. He also comes equipped with an army of masked goons called Inner Demons, ordinary people who are granted superhuman strength, a lack of conscience, and cool horror masks by Negative's powers.

Insomniac's E3 demo took place early in the game, as Spider-Man was attempting to stop a group of Inner Demons from killing some construction workers from one of the Kingpin's front companies. Hilarity ensues, and shortly thereafter, the player ends up in a helicopter chase across downtown Manhattan, although a big chunk of wreckage is webbed to the bottom of the chopper (mistakes were made) and destroying everything it's swung into. The idea is to create some deliberate, high-octane action set pieces, as Spidey tries to bring down the helicopter and keep the wreckage from killing anyone, and in action, it reminded me of some of the better-choreographed moments in the Sam Raimi movies. It's full of quick time events (QTEs) as Spidey scrambles to avert disaster, mostly by webbing things to other things, but in motion, it's smooth, fast-paced, and utterly insane in a way you only get with triple-A games or really high-budget films.

The combat is where most of the Arkham comparisons seem to kick in, and it's not unwarranted. If you get the chance to sneak into a location, you can target and disable single enemies with the touch of a button, getting Spider-Man to vault on top of them, beat them down, and finish the job by pasting them to the nearest wall or floor with copious amounts of webbing. You also come equipped with a few toys from recent comics, such as impact webbing, which lets you fire small mines that either wrap up a target, or reach out to grab the first target that comes near and stick them to a flat surface, effectively defeated.

In the event you end up in an open conflict, Spider-Man's webbing plays a starring role there, serving as a projectile, a whip, and a way of bringing distant opponents closer. The environments are full of objects you can grab and pull, turning them into improvised weapons, like hanging I-beams, fragile shelving, and random pieces of debris. Your spider-sense is represented as brief windows of slow motion, in which you can dodge or leap away from incoming attack; combined with Arkham-style circular dodging and attacking, that makes it easy to take on entire crowds of enemies. There's a certain improvised, bizarre rhythm to well-done examples of Spider-Man's fight choreography, where he doesn't have a lot of formal training but he gets by through sheer speed advantage, and the most practiced moments in the demo reminded me of that.

There wasn't as much web-slinging as I would have liked to have seen in the demo, but Insomniac insists that they're working hard to nail it, as they're aware it's probably the most important part of the package. From what I did see, valid anchor points for a web-sling are represented on-screen with flashing white target nodes, which you can grab onto and swing away from; it's more involved than Spider-Man 2's slinging, which was basically magic in how the webs would occasionally catch and hold onto nothing at all, but it moves faster than most similar mechanics in games.

I'll freely admit to some bias here, as I'm inclined to give any Spider-Man product the benefit of the doubt. I'm also a big fan of Insomniac's work, particularly Sunset Overdrive, which remains the only game I've ever bought and played after being asked to write at length about it. It's hard to say anything concrete about Spider-Man at this point, as I wasn't able to play the game for myself, but going off my short conversations with the available developers, their hearts are definitely in the right place. That and their track record make this a game to watch for next year.

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